Hey! This is an interview with the creator of Shaman King (more importantly, Ren). I'd like to state first off that I didn't interview anyone and this interview is rightfully copyrighted to Shonen Jump (a Viz production). I say this so no lawyers come to my house, find Ren under the table, and mame my body with... uh... lawyer stuff... Yeah... okay, anyways, on with the interview!
I'd like to start the interview by giving you the opportunity to introduce yourself. What would you like American readers to know about you?
I'm very pleased to know that my work is currently being distributed in America. I'm definitely going to do my best so that as many people as possible can enjoy my work. I am indebted to all of you who are supporting Shaman King.
What were you like when you were younger (say, in middle school and high school)?
Whether or not it was a good thing or a bad thing, I think I definitely stuck out from the crowd. Very similar to how i am now, I had absolutely no intrest in pop culture and the current trends, so I guess I was pretty different from most people.
How old were you when you first started drawing? What sorts of things did you draw?
I guess I was approximately five years old when I drew my first character, and if I remember correctly, it was Mazinger Z (the giant robot created by Go Nagai). There's something about robots that draws you to them.
What are some of your artistic influences?
A good fifty percent of my artistic influences come from Osamu Tezuka and American comics. I've been influenced by people such as Mike Mignola (Hellboy creator) and Tony Daniel in the world of American comics. Also Jamie Hewlett, of Tank Girl fame, as well as large number of artists whom I have great respect for.
Did you have any formal art training?
No, I haven't.
What was your work enviroment like in your early years as an artist?
While I was working as an assistant, exchanging ideas amongst the other assistants was pretty common. Mostly, my day job was primarily as a manga assistant, and I'd do my own work during my days off.
You worked as an assistant to Nobuhiro Watsuki, at the same time Eiichiro Oda was also working as his assitant. How did you become an assistant? Can you tell us about this period of your life?
Most of the rookies are first introduced to work as an assistant at Weekly Shonen Jump. The main purpose is for them to learn the ropes of the job- not to find out if they are "good" or "bad." It just so happened in my case of work as an assistant on Rorouni Kenshin was near my house (a two minute walk). All my fellow workers brought deep love of our work wth them.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your spare time?
I have quite a number of hobbies and intrests: super cars, toys models architecture, movies traveling games-I am pretty strong in most of them. My time off is pretty busy.
How do you balance Weekly Shonen Jump with your family?
Once a week, I make it a point to go out with my family.But unfortunately, all the other days, my kids hardly ever see my face. It's not good...
You said that you like amusement parks, but you have mixed feelings about roller coasters. Can you explain?
I don't know whether it's because of my job, or how I think, but I have a tendency to think a lot about what's going to happen next. Therefore I often think: falling equals breaking, which equals deep fear--that kind of thought process. But I do love going fast.
The battles in Shaman King seem to be inspired by fighting video games. What kind of video games do you like?
I love all games--and I tend to try out all genres--but the ones I totally get into are simulation games. Most games these days are pretty simple, so I play them until I clear them a least once.
Eventually in Shaman King, the characters visit America. I you have visited America, what places did you go to, and what were your impressions?
I haven't gone to the United States yet. If I got some vacation time, and the chance to go there arose, I would like to travel from New York to Los Angeles in a car. And afterwards, I would stay and live in Los Angeles. I'm half serious about this.
What is your favorite part of Japan? Or, alternately, what is your favorite type of landscape/setting that exists in Japan?
It would have to be "Izu." The vista of a hot spring town, combined with the rugged scenery, the circa 1960's and 1970's architecture and the slightly tattered, post-tourist boom feel of the place. The United States' West Coast is also another place...it has everything that I like.
If you could become immortal , at what age would you choose to do so? Or, alternately, what age of life do you think is most fun?
I don't think I'll know until I've lived for a little longer . It think life is beautiful because it is limited in nature, and it makes you strive to make the best of it because of it. But in another few years, I may come to the point where I might start to think that I would want to live forever. I don't remember having come to a point where I thought it was the climax of my life yet.
What kind of drawing and coloring materials do you use?
I primarily use inks and calligraphy nib type pens. For color work, I use Copic brand color markers. Extremely simple tools.
Are you influenced by hip-hop street art?
I have most definitely been influenced by street art from hip-hop and rap culture, but I don't think that's all I've been exposed to.
Can you tell us about some of your early manga, such as Itako no Anna?
The ability to honestly write a work is probably the happiest experience a writer can have. For me personally, my first work was done in a really relaxed fashion, so I really like it. But later on, when you have to create a work that will have many readers, you have to make a lot of concessions. The more you do, the more difficult the creation process becomes, and that is what I am currently in the midst of working out.
Anna seems to be a very important character for you, since she appeared in her own one-shot manga before Shaman King, and also in Butsu Zone. Can you tell us about the history of her character? Please think of her as my signature character...
Butsu Zone has some similar themes to Shaman King, as well as some of the same characters. Does Butsu Zone take place in the same "universe" as Shaman King?
"Shaman King" and "Butsu Zone" are completely different worlds. The characters that reappear are based on the "Star System" concept. (NOTE: The "Star System" is a concept from artist Osamu Tezuka in which a key character appears in several different manga titles)
The title pages of Shaman King often show characters who haven't appeared yet in the story. How closely did you plot the series out from the beginning? Do you create the characters first and the story later?
I create the characters first. Stories are born because of the existence of the characters, right?
In your opinion, what is the key to creating good characters?
The most important thing is to have originality, because there's no point in creating something that's similar to something, right? The next is to make sure the character is distinctive. By this, I mean that at first glance, a reader can figure out what the character is all about. Similarly, a distinctive silhouette that can easily be picked out is important. The character should also stand out from the rest of the characters. In regards to design, don't be afraid to try new things, and just do it. This will lead to the developement of an original character.
Would you explain yhour inspiration for Shaman King?
I think I'd rather explain this after the entire story has ended.
When you decided on the title for Shaman King, why did you use the word "shaman" instead of a Japanese word?
First of all, I think the nuance is really great. Secondly, there really is no word in Japanese that accurately carries the meaning of the word "shaman." I think the word is a perfect fit for "one who communicates with spirits."
If you had the opportunity, what historical time and culture would you like to visit?
There are an unlimited number of "whens" I would choose. I guess in the end, I would like to see where all life on the planet originated, and moment of the evolution of life.
If you had the opportunity, like the shamans in your manga, what one historical figure would you like to meet?
There are a lot of people I look up to, but I think if I were to meet them, my vision of them might be broken, so I don't think I would ever want to meet them. If you were to push me for an answer, I would have to say that I would like to meet DeLorean, tell him how to run a business well and perhaps have his rival companies not bury the plans for his cars.
Tanuki, or raccoon dogs, and fox spirits appear in Shaman King, as the characters Ponchi and Konchi. How did you come up with your personal interpretation of these traditional spirit-animals?
In general, I create original things by incorporating various designs I like, but if you read the comic, "Ponchi" and "Konchi" are pretty obviously an homage to the characters "Ren and Stimpy."
If you had a totem animal, what would it be?
I would love to have a talking owl. The owl I own has never really gotten used to me.
The fact that Yoh is engaged to Anna from the beginning of the story is unusual for a shonen manga. In many ways, their relationship is more mature than the relationships between male and female characters in usual shonen manga. Has your own marriage influenced your depiction of Yoh and Anna?
I think it reflects quite a bit of my own personal experience. I wouldn't say it is a direct copy. But the relationship both characters have , is quite and ideal relationship, I would say.
Why do you think that "partnerhsip" (like the parnership between Yoh and Amidamaru) is so important in Japanese anime and manga, as opposed to American superhero comics, for instance, where the hero usually operates alone?
Personally, I don't think it's particularly important, but in Japan, teamwork is recognized as a particularly noble trait, and evokes quite a bit of emotion as such.
For a battle manga, Shaman King has unusually strong philosophical elements, increasingly so as it goes on. How does the philosophy in Shaman King reflect you personal beliefs?
I don't think it's such a good idea in terms of entertain ment. But because of the nature of the work, and also my own personality, my beliefs have been incorporated into it. However, recently there are comics out there that have no message, and this isn't particularly a good thing either.
This question may be answered later in the seires, but how do shamans of pacifistic religions ever win the "Shaman Fight?"
The Shaman Fight is fought using the "Strength of the Soul." But whether "pacifism" equals "weakness of the soul" will be revealed in my coming works.